Trade in your item
Get a $3.66
Gift Card.
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See all 10 images

Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters Hardcover – October 29, 2001

See all 9 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
"Please retry"
$68.89 $26.95

Frequently Bought Together

Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters + How to Paint Like the Old Masters
Buy the selected items together
  • How to Paint Like the Old Masters $16.21


Looking for the Audiobook Edition?
Tell us that you'd like this title to be produced as an audiobook, and we'll alert our colleagues at If you are the author or rights holder, let Audible help you produce the audiobook: Learn more at

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Studio; 1 edition (October 29, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670030260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670030262
  • Product Dimensions: 12.2 x 9.8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

British painter David Hockney, well known for his cool and lovely paintings of California pools, has taken on the new role of detective. For two years Hockney seriously investigated the painting techniques of the old masters, and like any admirable sleuth, compiled substantial evidence to support his revolutionary theory. Secret Knowledge is the fruit of this labor, an exhaustive treatise in pictures revealing clues that some of the world's most famous painters, Ingres, Velázquez, Caravaggio (just to mention a few) utilized optics and lenses in creating their masterpieces. Hockney's fascination with the subject is contagious, and the book feels almost like a game with each analysis a "How'd they do that?" instead of a whodunit. While some may find the technical revelation a disappointment in terms of the idea of genius, Hockney is quick to point out that the use of optics does not diminish the immensity of artistic achievement. He reminds the reader that a tool is just a tool, and it is still the artist's hand and creative vision that produce a work of art. (296 pages, 460 illustrations, 402 in color.) --J.P. Cohen


When looking at pictures, one can have no more stimulating and provocative companion than Hockney. -- The Times Literary Supplement, London --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Important Information

Example Ingredients

Example Directions

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Evan M. Dudik on March 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Critics and reviewers who have rated Hockney's Secret Knowledge low seem to me to overlooks some major points. Some of these I find more persuasive than the the issue of alleged perspective misjudgment which seem to attract the greatest heat.

1. H points out that a huge majority of portraits in the period show the model as left handed--some 80%. This is consistent with use of lenses and inconsistent with the frequency of left-handedness in the population. Now, here is a verifiable fact. Are H's numbers right--or are they not?

2. H is not claiming that everyone 1400-1650 was a poor draftsman. At least in what I've seen so far, he doesn't claim e.g. that Rembrandt used optics. Part of his evidence is however that some artists who were great painters were not great draftsmen--their painting exceeds in accuracy their draftsmanship. Now this appears to me again something that is verifiable by a third party. (The question of H's own draftsmanship abilities is totally irrlevant. I don't like his art much myself).

3. In a highly competitive art market, where realism counted, what is the likelihood that artists would >not< use devices that helped them both with accuracy and speed? Even if the great Ren artists could paint and draw realistically without optics (and their education certainly was thorough), throughput and competitive concerns surely would have pushed them in that direction.

4. To my knowledge, no one has responded to H's claim that the change in light to very strong with dark shadows from about 1400 (light is flat) to 1500 is very consistent with use of optics. Yes, that is not the only possible explanation. But from a philosophy of science perspective, this phenomenon and the phenomenon of increased accuracy need to be explained.
Read more ›
9 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
137 of 160 people found the following review helpful By R. Hettinger on November 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Great book. Reads like the denouement of spell-binding mystery novel with the visual and textual evidence mounting piece by piece until the conclusion seems inevitable. As a working artist, Hockney teases out clues that may have eluded art historians. The book itself is a piece of artwork with excellent reproductions, skillful layout and beautiful typography.
There is one sore spot. Historical and scientific types will quickly notice that Hockney reached his conclusions BEFORE his two year search for evidence and that weaknesses in the argument and evidence are not fully considered. The examples appear selective and are possibly not representative. Looking at the sample artwork, you can see his point but would not be suprised to hear valid alternative explanations. Though not proof positive, the work is persuasive, enlightening and more than a little revolutionary.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
52 of 60 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The premise is simple: Hockney believes that the Old Masters of European art used tools and techniques of which little record remains. This book presents his justification for that belief.

The first half of this book is visual. It shows the original paintings and drawings that led Hockney to this idea. Once it's pointed out, many signs are unmistakable: odd proportions in otherwise masterful works, inconsistent perspective drawn by people who really knew perspective, and a few other better-known oddities. Although I'm not a fan of Hockney's own work, I respect the training and sensitivity that picked out these features.

Hockney goes on to show how these artifacts could have come from use of a family of optical tools, including camera lucida and several variants on the camera obscura. This is where he brings the most to this book, in trying the tools himself, as an artist, and seeing what unique features each tool imposes on the resulting artworks. This is what has so many critics upset - the idea that the Old Masters might have used every tool possible to complete their commissions faster, and to give their patrons the most pleasing result for the ducat. Those critics know about the assembly-line work in some of the Old Masters' studios and who know about the other mechanical aids that are well documented, but squawk at the idea of adding another tool to their toolboxes. Huh?

Hockney's evidence is often circumstantial, since painting was (and often is) a secretive and competitive business. Still, he offers a good story, and the second half of the book adds a strong foundation of written records to the structure. This is the book's weakness, though. Hockney is an artist, not a historian or optical technologist.
Read more ›
2 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
41 of 51 people found the following review helpful By "sharengs" on November 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Poor David. His book has certainly stirred up controversy. This has to be the most reviewed art book I've ever come across.
First of all I'd like to say that I find the authors style refreshing in that he doesn't try to force his opinions on you and his arguments are logically set out. However I have to agree with some of the other reviewers in that he did come to his conclusions before he proved them and I feel that some of his evidence is inadequate and forced to fit the theory and not the other way round and some of his arguments are faulty or badly presented.
However, the authors' overall information appears to be based on pretty solid ground and I found it quite interesting. There seems to be enough contemporary evidence available to show that the sort of optical devices he talks about were available to artists of the time if they wanted to use them. I think at the end of the day though it all comes back to - does the use of any sort of optical device enable you to paint something that you wouldn't have the skill to paint without.
In my experience, the answer is no.
If you check out the websites of any of the good realist art schools you'll see that people today can match anything the old masters did in terms of realism without the use of any sort of photographic or optical device at all (many realist artists are dyed in the wool 'purists' in regards to that ([...] is a good example). However David Hockney never claimed this. In fact he writes in the introduction "Let me say here that optics don't make drawing any easier either, far from it - I know, I've used them".
Read more ›
2 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Recent Customer Reviews

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?